How to Introduce Your Cat to Kids and Pets
Adopting a new cat is exciting! You’ve found the purrfect addition, you’ve prepped your home in advance, and now it’s time to bring your new cat home. Whether this is your first feline companion or you’re an experienced cat parent, you might be wondering how to safely introduce your cat to the rest of the family.
Depending on who you’re adopting from, your new friend may have been in a relatively small space, like a cage, or a small room with or without other cats. Your home will have a lot of space to explore! Cats are small hunters who need to protect themselves from other predators, so they need to make sure their new space is safe.
Before you bring your new cat home, prepare a room that will be just for them for the first few days. In this room, you should have a litter box, food and water bowls (placed in separate areas of the room), a scratching post, and a place to perch and hide.
When you first get home, leave your cat in their carrier for half an hour or longer in this room so they can check out the room safely. If kitty seems curious and is asking to be let out (meowing to you or pawing at the carrier door), open the carrier door and let them come out on their own. Keep the door to the room closed for now.
Leave the carrier in the room, near a wall, or somewhere they can climb back in if they want to. This will also help your cat associate the carrier with feeling safe. In fact, if you leave the open carrier out all the time, they may use it as a cozy bedroom, rather than associating the carrier with dreaded trips to the vet. Make sure it has a nice soft, clean towel or fleece in it for comfort.
There’s no rush to show your cat your entire home. Let your feline friend get comfortable in this room for a few days, until they show you they are ready to explore this big new world. There’s no hurry.
Cat, Meet Kids
In order to feel safe, cats like to feel in control. They like calm, relatively quiet environments. If things get hectic, they should be able to hide or climb up onto a perch to watch but be out of harm’s way. Most adults respect this; introduce your family members or housemates quietly, one at a time, so as not to overwhelm the newcomer.
Bring the person to the kitty’s safe room. Maybe he or she can bring a small treat. Move calmly and in a non-threatening manner, always letting the kitty move away if they want to. Don’t force an introduction on your new friend.
Young children (and some teens and adults) are sometimes so excited that they cause a new cat to feel stressed. They may have a hard time moving calmly or speaking quietly, and they may not know how to read the cat’s body language yet.
Encourage them to be patient; short visits are ideal. Sit down on the floor with the child and read them a story, allowing the cat to come and explore this new person on their own terms. Help your child understand not to grab or try to hold the kitty. Some cats may not even be ready to be petted right away.
Be patient. This friendship will blossom in time. Short, calm visits will build the relationship more quickly than forced camaraderie.
Cats and Dogs (And Other Cats)
If your housemates include another pet, make sure they don’t have access to the room you’ve set up to welcome your kitty home. Smells are much more important in the world of cats and dogs than they are for people. Their noses give them a lot of information about places and the individuals that are, or have been, present.
Let them get to know each other before meeting face to face by exchanging scents. You can do this by taking a small clean, dry cloth (like a face/washcloth) and stroking one pet with this cloth to transfer scent onto it. Wipe their head, face, body just as you would with your hand. Repeat this with a different cloth for every other pet.
Leave the other animal’s cloth in the new cat’s room and your cat’s cloth somewhere in the rest of your home so the other pet(s) can investigate and “read” about the stranger. Don’t try to force the smell introduction. Do this for several consecutive days, swapping the cloths back and forth with fresh scent.
Eventually, the smell of the other pet should be less frightening. They may sniff each other from either side of the door and may even stick their paws under the door; they may play with each other or may growl and hiss. Do not scold them; this is all part of getting to know each other.
The next step is to bring kitty out to meet one pet at a time. This is easiest with two people that both pets have met before. Each person will focus their attention on one pet. This will help your existing pet feel reassured – after all, they are the one whose home has been invaded by the newcomer! Keep the visit brief and never force the animals to be close to each other.
If there is growling or hissing, don’t scold either pet, but prevent physical aggression. If you have a dog who is large or particularly excitable, you may even want to keep them on a leash during visits. Even if things are going well, five minutes is plenty. You can increase the time by five minutes a day. It takes patience and dedication to do this right, but it really pays off.
You Can’t Force It
Just like in any family, there may be those who like some members more than others. Your cat may never want to cuddle up with your dog or other cat. Or they might not choose small children or certain other adult family members to sit close to or go to for cuddles. This is normal and not cause for concern. The goal is that everyone in your home feels comfortable and safe, even if they aren’t the best of friends.